California is known internationally as the mecca for beach volleyball, where the top athletes and coaches are found. Many of the best players have a long history of intensive training, including professionals, Olympians and national team members.
Ansgar Grunseid walks among the greats and looks the part. He is a 6’5, burly man with long blonde hair that he slicks into a ponytail. He moves athletically, tearing through the sand and hitting with power. But he knows he is much different than most. Self-identified as a ‘street rat,’ he is entirely self-taught and has no formal training.
Grunseid’s beach volleyball journey began at Stanford University in 2015, when he joined a group playing recreationally. “We we’re just biking by and we saw a bunch of people playing beach volleyball. But before we saw them, we heard them. They were having a raucously good time and playing a bunch of loud music,” said Grunseid.
At first it was all just casual fun. “I was horrendous, I couldn’t pass a ball, I couldn’t set a ball, the only thing I could do was physical acts of embarrassment,” Grunseid laughed. “But I was absolutely hooked on the scene, it’s just so fun. I get out in the sun, feet in the sand, music playing, it’s a blast.” But Grunseid’s love for the game quickly turned into more than a silly game among friends.
Grunseid has improved at an impressive, uncommon pace. With no formal training, he is currently ranked by the California Beach Volleyball Association (CBVA) as 49th in the state and is one of the best players in Northern California. He shows no sign of slowing down either.
He credits his growth to playing as much as possible, always surrounding himself with players that are better than him, and asking questions. Finding players that are better than him to practice with, however, is increasingly difficult as Grunsied strives for greater heights.
“I set an explicit ambition to just improve as fast as I possibly could. That’s because I am a very competitive fellow. There’s nothing that slaps a smile on my face from ear to ear more than winning.,” he said.
Grunseid has done lots of winning in the past years, climbing the ranks in CBVA through winning tournaments on the coast.
The CBVA is the organization that conducts tournaments throughout California and ranks competitors based on their tournament finishes. There are five levels of tournaments, ‘unrated’ for beginners, ‘B’ for intermediate, ‘A,’ for those who have developed some strong skills, ‘AA,’ for very strong, experienced players and ‘Open, or AAA,’ which is the highest level offered and includes professionals.
Grunseid obtained his ‘Open, or AAA,’ ranking when he won a CBVA tournament in Santa Cruz last summer. “Winning that final game was just pure elation,” he recalls.
This summer, Grunseid plans to travel to Los Angeles, where the most competitive tournaments in the nation are, as well as throughout the country to play in the Association of Volleyball Professional tournaments in New York City, Chicago, Austin, and Minneapolis.
The AVP is the largest beach volleyball organization in the United States. While there are hundreds of smaller tournaments year round, the Pro Tour, consisting of 16 tournaments, gives out $2 million in prize money.
While he is not a professional yet, Grunseid says he is, “ready to branch out and see what damage I can do.”